An Anc Leader Should Strive to Be in Touch with the People
BYLINE: Essop Pahad
The African National Congress is deeply committed to creating a better South Africa and a better Africa.
That is its historic mission, its raison d'etre rooted in the Freedom Charter that loudly proclaims that South Africa belong to all who live in it.
The Freedom Charter and the constitution are both incredibly visionary documents that place enormous obligations on the ruling party to create a South Africa that is free of racism, sexism and chauvinism, and that promotes a non-sexist, non-racist, inclusive and socially cohesive country where the fruits of growth are equitably shared among all.
Ours must be a South Africa committed to reconciliation, that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, respects the rule of law, united in its diversity, peaceful, prosperous and democratic.
These are not cliches but necessary realities without which our post-apartheid order makes no sense.
Improving the wellbeing of all South Africans is of utmost importance. These objectives and values form the fountainhead of our existence.
This commitment, with its profoundly important national, continental and global implications, requires the ANC to exercise the greatest care in the choice of leaders to head the movement for the next five years and beyond.
The choice of leader must draw on the democratic tradition and impulses within the ANC. For in the ANC power is vested in the branches, and branches collectively have 90% of the votes at the upcoming Polokwane conference.
Democracy and the very fabric of democracy require a process in which leadership positions are robustly contested.
That is the ANC way. But these contestations must not degenerate into invective, abuse, dirty tricks, appeals to different forms of chauvinism and ad hominem attacks.
Leadership debates and contests allow one to test and measure the qualities of the contestants, their strengths and weaknesses and what they stand for.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a political party forthrightly debating the qualities required by a leader to realise the vision articulated above.
So what are the qualities that make a good leader?
Leaders in the ANC are not autonomous beings; they are part of a collective, and derive their legitimacy and credibility not from opinion polls, not from journalists and political commentators or from any insiders of ill-will feeding them misinformation - but from the will of the membership of the ANC as expressed in free and fair democratic processes.
The leader of the ANC is part of a collective leadership but is also the primary spokesperson for the movement.
Such a person must be fully schooled in the traditions of the ANC, must understand and accept its political culture, its values and its openly- stated vision for progressive politics to dominate the global, continental and national agenda.
She or he must be open, transparent and accountable to the membership of the organisation.
As the ANC itself repeatedly states, to become an ANC leader is not an entitlement; it must derive from a commitment to serve the people.
The leader should strive to be in touch with the people, to be accessible and flexible and to listen to and learn from them.
The leader must work to realise the vision of the movement and must encourage people to be their own change agents; to lead by example and by consensus, to be above reproach in political, economic and social conduct and to act as role model for ANC members and non-members alike.
Such leaders must eschew all forms of chauvinism and promote a vision of unity in diversity and gender equality, respect and tolerance and must promote democracy and strengthen all the institutions of democracy.
Leaders must also exemplify moral standing, they must have respect and stature globally so that they can advance the interests of Africa worldwide and use their influence to promote our commitment to peace and stability, democracy and good governance on our continent.
A leader of the ANC in South Africa is also a leader on the continent and part of the broader progressive forces dealing constructively with the defining challenges of our time - poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, the promotion and realisation of gender equality and promotion of the rights of people with disabilities.
As we go to Polokwane, where the debates and lobbying will be robust, even aggressive, let us not degenerate into the gutter of politics where we appeal to forms of chauvinism and division and where intimidation, corruption and patronage become a part of political culture.
Leaders of the ANC must be committed to transforming our movement and our country into one that is non-sexist, non-racist and prosperous.
That is still work in progress, and we dare not interrupt its march to success.
It will of course be up to the membership to decide who best meets these qualities of leadership.
The current leader of the ANC and president of the country and undoubtedly one of the leading global statesmen, Thabo Mbeki, has had to endure, from some quarters, a stream of vitriol and invective.
He has been depicted as aloof, authoritarian, dictatorial and ruthless. What is remarkable is his composure in the face of this onslaught.
Thabo Mbeki has refused to be dragged to the level of his critics; rather he has characteristically chosen to focus on the tasks of governing the country, keeping government on track regarding the realisation of national development objectives of growing our economy so as to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014, so that all of us can benefit from a strong and prosperous South Africa.
Under Mbeki's leadership we have been vigorous and unwavering in pursuing gender equality and the empowerment of women.
We can be proud that today over 40% of all ministers and deputy ministers are women. This is leadership in action, exemplifying the courage of conviction.
No one has done more to advance the empowerment and representation of women in both elected and appointed office in South Africa.
So, as the ANC goes into the future, the issue of gender equality, empowerment and mainstreaming must remain among our most important challenges and this requires a leadership that has demonstrated its commitment to equality.
I write as an ANC NEC member who has decided that I will not avail myself of any positions in the 2009 general elections.
As I make my own assessment of the complex interplay of skills required to lead an organisation like the ANC I can only come to one inescapable conclusion - Thabo Mbeki, despite his weaknesses, remains the best candidate.
His strengths reside in his refusal to bow to the convenience of the one-liners, his capacity for critical thinking, his willingness to test his ideas against those of others and his respectful, consensual leadership style.
Under the watch of Thabo Mbeki, the committed humanist, the ardent promoter of human rights and gender equality, the ANC NEC will propose to branches that starting from Polokwane onwards all ANC structures will be required to implement the principle of gender equality in decision making.
I can think of nothing better than to begin now, and thus the candidate that I shall support for the Deputy President of the ANC is current Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She is a person of integrity, highly respected on our continent and fully committed to the realisation of our country's national development objectives.
It would be a tragedy if a woman of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's character and intellect is not elected to one of the two most important positions in the ANC. Thabo Mbeki and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would make a very good leadership team as president and deputy president of the ANC.
As ANC delegates in Polokwane cast their votes by secret ballot, they must consciously weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of all the contenders for leadership positions.
They must determine, free from intimidation and in the true spirit of democracy, who is most capable of continuing to build our movement into the global progressive force that it is.
Whoever is elected will carry the moral and political weight of past generations of leaders who have always sought to ensure that the ANC remains united, cohesive and committed to equality and the creation of a better life for all.
l Pahad is Minister in the Presidency.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: An Anc Leader Should Strive to Be in Touch with the People. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Cape Times (South Africa). Publication date: December 6, 2007. Page number: 15. © 2009 Independent News & Media PLC. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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